Green Bay ready for giant Super Bowl party
First, the gear. On will go the Clay Matthews No. 52 jerseys, the green-and-gold sweat shirts, the cheesehead earrings.
Next comes church, where Vince Lombardi always began his day and the pastor will bestow a blessing on Aaron Rodgers, Charles Woodson and Donald Driver. Then come the sports bars and the beer, buffets and bar games. There will be tailgating. The charge that's been running through every fan since they got out of bed will grow as the clock ticks toward kickoff.
When the game finally begins, when that ball flies off the kicker's foot and arcs high through the Texas air, the people will forget about mortgages, taxes, unemployment and even the spirit-crushing February weather that freezes the "Frozen Tundra of Lambeau Field."
This tiny northern city, with a population about the same as the roughly 100,000 who will be on hand at Cowboys Stadium to watch the Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl, will rejoice. The winners of 12 championships and three Super Bowls will ready themselves to welcome the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Titletown.
"It's something to be proud of," said Brent Weycker, a Green Bay native and founder of Titletown Brewery. "We are really a unique story. No owner, we're in a small city, we're old. We've got many championships and all these great characters. Lombardi, Curly Lambeau, Brett Favre. You can't write a better story."
The Packers have always been a source of pride for the state of Wisconsin, but their connection to Green Bay, a blue-collar outpost powered by paper mills and meat packers, is deeper and more intimate. The city's skyline is essentially Lambeau Field, the stadium visible from each of the bridges that cross the mouth of Green Bay itself. Other buildings around the city are painted green and gold, too.
The team is a crucial economic engine for the area. According to the Greater Green Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, each home game generates about $8.2 million in direct spending in Brown County. The team also contributes $4 million annually to community charities, and Packer players make hundreds of personal appearances each year.
And never has the team been a brighter spot for the city than now, as Green Bay slogs through the recession. Fred Monique, president of the Green Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, said the Packers' Super Bowl run has rejuvenated a city where unemployment stood at 9.6 percent in December.
"It's just an uplifting, positive time," Monique said. "We're a one-sport town. We don't have basketball or baseball. No hockey. I think it makes the winter shorter for people because there's something to look forward to."
Most of the 2,000 or so hotel rooms in the stadium district near Lambeau Field were at or near capacity as of Thursday afternoon, said Brenda Krainik, a spokeswoman for the visitors bureau. Some families are coming from as far away as California, she said, to watch the game in the shadow of Lambeau Field.
"We're telling people if you're not going to Dallas, you're headed to Green Bay if you're a very enthusiastic Packers fan," she said.
Amanda Watson, general manger of the Stadium View Bar & Grill, just a few blocks away from Lambeau Field, looks forward to people jamming her 2,600-person-capacity establishment on Sunday. She expects to find people waiting in line to get in when the place opens at 8 a.m. Sunday.
She plans to have 65 of her 66 employees working — the only exception is a woman who has tickets to the Super Bowl. The bar plans to set up three giant coolers outside to hold enough beer for the day and bring in DJ to run contests and games. The game itself will play out across 25 televisions and three 10-foot screens, she said.
"People just want to be here," she said. "It will be a blast."
Weycker said he expects a capacity crowd at Titletown Brewery, including plenty of out-of-towners. He said he got a call from a Packers fan in Fargo, N.D., who warned him he was coming to the brewery with a bunch of friends on Sunday. The brewery has 12 televisions, but he plans to cart in a big-screen as well.
The city plans to close the downtown bar district to vehicle traffic to let people party in the streets. The Green Bay Press-Gazette is planning an extra edition if the Packers win the game.
The Packers also have invited people to line the streets on Monday afternoon to welcome the team as it travels by bus from Austin Straubel International Airport to Lambeau Field. City schools plan to let kids out by noon so they can attend. If the Packers win, the team has planned a massive rally at the stadium on Tuesday.
For Weycker, whose father was at the famous Ice Bowl in December 1967, when the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys in sub-zero weather to win the NFL championship, this Super Bowl offers his generation an opportunity to share the glory.
"We're a small town with a football team that will never be replicated again," he said. "It's a real chance to be proud of our city and of our team."
Associated Press writer Colin Fly in Milwaukee contributed to this report.